Frustration – Update #2 – Time to put these puppies to bed for a while

Vintage_Clock_Scissors_2This is a belated entry to let you know the outcome of my conversation with Saundra about the Transitional Stays. She is very nice to speak with and her knowledge is extensive. She understood the problem and the short story is…for a DD like me it’s going to take a lot of work to get the stays to fit, let alone fit comfortably.

The pattern was developed from an extant garment that had been made for a woman with a 44-inch underbust circumference, so I assumed it would be an easy “downsize” to fit me. But Saundra explained that the original owner was not a large woman in the sense of being overweight; she was just plain large. Big boned and tall, but not overweight. And no large breasts. So goes the easy adjustment theory.

She walked me through how to do it – alterations, additional fabric for strength, perhaps using heavy tailoring lining, etc. – and shared that her DD friends had the same issues with fitting. So it sounds like it’s just inherent to the pattern – large-breasted women will need to take extra time with the muslin to get the fit right. She did bemoan the fact that it’s rare to find an extant garment made for larger women, which makes it hard for pattern-makers to know “how they did it” when it comes to things like this.

The end result is that I’m putting them aside, probably for quite a while. I still want to make them, and I do want a comfortable fit, but I don’t have that kind of time right now. I’m in the midst of mountains of legal paperwork that require my immediate attention (it’s a good thing, but time-consuming and demands accuracy), my second eye surgery is tomorrow, and I really need to finish up my Victorian hat and try to finish the Victorian corset before the Bustle Dress class starts in the middle of May.

The last 2 weeks have been crazy busy, but things will/should/might start to calm down by Tuesday night. We shall see. (A phrase I believe is begging to be made into a tattoo.)

So, the upshot of all of this is that I think my big Regency birthday weekend bash will have to wait. The Regency Long Stays from The Mantua Maker were much easier to understand and I’ll pick them back up for finishing. They’ll be done when they’re done. And then I can start making gowns.

It’s a little bit disappointing sometimes, not being SuperWoman. But, then, she had her own world of problems to deal with and mine are so much simpler.

Now, where are those darned papers and which page was I on?


Your Weekend Wow!

A few little somethings to keep one’s necessary items at hand…enjoy.

Frustration – update

Just a quick note: I e-mailed Saundra at Past Patterns and we have a telephone appointment for tomorrow.

I also followed the suggestion from a member of the Oregon Regency Society and tried wearing my industrial shelf/push-up bra with the straps really tight. That made a HUGE difference: the underbust came up a full inch and the girls popped out so that the outline looked normal – no more profiles of melon road-kill.

I read ahead in the directions and still have some questions, so am very happy to have the opportunity to speak with Saundra. Stay tuned!


This morning - it all looked so nice.

This morning – it all looked so nice.

I’m feeling more than a bit frustrated with my transitional stays. Actually, it’s the instructions. I know that corset- and stay-making are not beginner-level projects. I’m not a beginner, but I need help.

I obviously don’t know enough to make the stays on my own. True, I managed a Victorian corset which came out rather well, if I do say so myself. But this little project ain’t goin’ so well.



(This is the part where I make the legal disclaimer that these opinions are nothing more than that: my opinions. They are not a statement of fact, merely my interpretation of circumstances which are driving me flippin’ nuts.)

The instructional format is not working for me. Too many pages. Information not sequential. Have to keep flipping back and forth. Makes me unhappy.

Too many pages!!

Too many pages!!

Working without a fit buddy is difficult at best. Apparently, the author believes it should not be attempted.


(Copyright Past Patterns)

Either that, or I’m short a few limbs.

(copyright Past Patterns)

(copyright Past Patterns)

And failed to purchase the magic scissors option.


But I think the only way to figure this thing out is to keep going. So I basted the center front and back and basted the left side seam. Then pinned on the straps (marks for placement on back piece only – thanks) and wiggled into it.

The center front and back seams are indeed centered and straight. The side seam is at my side. The circumferential fit is snug, but not impossibly tight – that is, it’s a good reminder for posture but I can breathe.

OK, so far.

And then I came to the step where it really started falling apart for me: the bust gusset. As you can see in the illustration above, you are to put the muslin on with a bra under the chemise and locate the highest underbust line, and mark the outline for the bust gusset. So I did and this is what I got.

Anyone notice a bit of a disparity? The model seems to be sporting a lovely set of AA’s. I need to construct stays that will display a pair of DD’s. Hmmm. And no where is this addressed in the instructions or comments (except my own ongoing comments which are not all that helpful at the moment) other than to cut a bust gusset with more support. More on this later.

I traced my “outline” exactly where is was. Then I read the next part of the instructions, which state that the inner edge of the bust gusset must be located two inches in from the center front to allow for the busk. The tip of the black pen marks two inches in (that diagonal line to the left is the center front…I’m using my left side for positioning). As you can see, my…uh…anatomy doesn’t comply with that placement concept, even in its fully-brassiered state.

So I’m not exactly sure what to so. I know the high-underbust mark is correct – I’ve checked it three times. I’m thinking at this point I’ll just smile broadly and proceed as if I understand what I’m doing, put the bust gusset where it should be (as opposed to where I’ve marked it) and see what happens. The fabric is already cut and marked. I can donate a day to experiment with magical thinking. And, who knows – I might get wildly lucky and it will work.

In the meantime I’ll be trolling the internet looking for tutorials on how to fit this pattern. And bopping over to the Oregon Regency Society Facebook group for assistance and moral support.

And advertising for a fit buddy.

After all, how hard can it be to find someone who lives at the end of a peninsula to no-where and is interested in period sewing techniques?

Meet the Transitional Stays

Last night I started the rolled-hem edges on my cap and got completely frustrated because I couldn’t keep focused on the stitching line. I want this to be a real rolled edge, not a tiny fold-over and catch a few stitches type of hem. I found an excellent video on YouTube that explains the process in a way that makes sense  – many thanks to Ami Simms for such clear instructions – and was raring to go. But my eye is still fatiguing pretty quickly and I couldn’t hold a straight line.

So I got all frustrated, pitched a mild temper tantrum, and watched the entire 1995 BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice series while trying to convince myself I was instead choosing to do more “research” on what the older women were wearing.

The hot buttered rum helped. (I simply must find a Regency-era libation, other than beer or wine, for situations such as these. It’s all about authenticity, you know.)

As I was falling asleep to the echo of Mr.Belvedere’s Gavotte running through my head, I decided that today was going to be the start of the transitional stays.

And so it has been.

Somewhere between last night and this morning something occurred to me that has me seeing clothing from this era in a whole new light. I used to see the gowns as a rather boring repetition of a very limited theme. But now that I’m thinking in terms of fit, my attitude has changed. Evolved, maybe. A proper fitting garment is the primary determination of success, Yeah, fabric and trims and other fluff can make a “wow” out of a basic pattern. But if the gown does not fit correctly, and heaven knows I’ve already seen plenty that don’t, nothing else matters.

So, I woke up this morning with the understanding that, despite a few (improving) visual limitations, I have the chance to make some outstanding garments – because I will make them to fit me as close to perfectly as I can.

And it starts with the stays.

2014-04-14 18.09.09Past Patterns #038: a few observations and suggestions.

I like background when I’m making something completely new, and this pattern has background coming out its ears. For me, though, this is almost too much information. I think the pattern would be easier to use if the historical document part was separate from the pattern instructions.

My second suggestion for improvement is the way the pattern instructions are printed.

These images haven’t been altered in any way – this is how the printing looks: words in nice dark type with nearly invisible light grey diagrams. In my humble opinion, it’s just plain mean to provide diagrams that the user can’t see without stopping every so often to hold them up to his or her nose. Yes, it keeps the images from bleeding through to the other side, but really now.

Then there’s the matter of altering the length of the torso. The patterns states that it’s made for a person 5’6″ tall. I’m 5’9″, so I almost always need to make adjustments. No big deal. Except, I have not once found any reference on how best to lengthen this pattern.  There are no “lengthen or shorten here” lines on the pattern pieces, and I don’t see anything in the notes. Or at least if they are in there somewhere, I’ve yet to find them. So, just to have a starting reference point, I resorted to the bathroom selfie to see if a huge discrepancy would be noticeable right off the bat. It wasn’t.

Front half of pattern pinned to stretch cami to check torso length. (Mirror needs cleaning, sorry 'bout that.)

Front half of pattern pinned to stretch cami to check torso length. (Mirror needs cleaning, sorry ’bout that.)

So I decided to go ahead and cut the muslin according to the pattern and fit my way through the length, along with the rest of the normal fitting adjustments.

Now the muslin is completely cut out and marked. Next step is to baste the front and back pieces together and start the fitting.

But first, a spot of lunch.


The Cap

Given my new eyeball gets tired pretty easily, between healing up from getting its new lens and all those muscles having to fiddle with finding the new focal point(s), it seemed only reasonable to start my serious Regency fling with some hand work. Not that there’s much else to do when sewing Regency garments, you understand. I’m just saying that my timing, as usual, is lacking.

So, while my eye is re-learning the basics like Sit, Stay and Where’s Waldo, I’m starting on my cap. Being a woman of a certain age means that my hair shall be covered. Don’t want these lustrous waves causing a riot amongst the eligible peerage, you understand. At least, not unless they’re widowers with grown children.

2014-04-14 18.06.08

I’m starting out with the “Lucy” cap from the Country Wives series of British Regency caps (1780-1820). The concept of “keep it simple” is finally taking hold in my brain: one headband, one circular cap, two ruffles. Big enough to fit my 23 1/4″ noggin. And will look simply charming under my transitional-years-appropriate straw bonnet.

Finding good fabric has been surprisingly difficult. Most of the whites are either too stiff or too limp.

Finally I came across a woven white Swiss-dot that is just right; enough body to hold its shape without sticking out all over the place.

While I was standing in line for the cutting table, great debate ensued over whether or not the dots were actually woven. It was really hard to tell. And that was enough to convince me that if it was that hard to know if the dots were woven, then it was good enough for me at this point in my Regency costuming career.

2014-04-19 09.32.48

As it turned out, under magnification (and a lot of image manipulation)  you can tell that they are not woven. but they don’t have that “flocked” look either – no big fuzzy lumpy-bumpy going on. So I’m going with it. And keeping my bonnet on.

2014-04-19 09.32.48e

Which brings me to the next bump in the road.

The more I research the more I find things to question and these caps are no exception. Everything I read concurs on one aspect of making caps: they must be white, white only, all white, don’t even think of using anything else or you’ll be laughed out of the assembly rooms, you horrid creature. Or words to that effect.

OK. I can oblige to follow historic precedent and instructions. However, the historical record leaves me to believe that colored ribbons were acceptable. I see examples of plain muslin, embroidery, net, lace…

…the choices are mind-boggling.

Lacy regency day cap.I the darkest reaches of my heart this is one that I really want. Unfortunately, that means I’ll have to make it.

Subdued and attractive bonnet. Met Museum, 1810But it will be a cake walk compared to the bonnet I’m dying to make.

More on those follies later.

Your Weekend Wow!

In the spirit of my Regency Scramble, here are some outstanding examples of Georgian/Regency embroidered gowns.

And no, I won’t be attempting to make one of these in six weeks. I can, on occasion, be realistic.

When forced to.

A Regency Birthday Bash

I turn 61 at the end of May. I have no idea how I managed to make it 60, let alone 61. It crept up on me when I wasn’t paying attention, which is perhaps the kindest thing age can do. Anyway, since I am still here, in spite of everything (and I do mean everything) I want to celebrate. Make that Celebrate.

As luck would have it, the genteel folk at the Oregon Regency Society seem to feel the same way. So here it is – my 2014 birthday bash:

Topsails and Tea 2014

Aw, gosh ORS – you shouldn’t have. OK, you didn’t. But it hardly matters ’cause I’m 100% on board, so to speak.

So what kinds of activities are available to note the anniversary of a gentlewoman of reasonable-ish breeding and utterly bogus peerage? How amusing you should inquire!

As you can see, I am in want of a wardrobe. One that will take me from museums to teas and from the top deck of a sailing ship to the candlelight of a ballroom. The modern answer would be “layering” but I have rather serious doubts such a blatantly mundane solution would be fashionably acceptable. Especially what with this being my début into society, such as it is.

So this is what I’m thinking at the minute:

  • Two day ensembles, top to toe.
  • A wrap for evening (huzzah for the Kashmir shawl)
  • A warmer wrap for out on the water.
  • A ball gown, replete with a feather-bedecked turban.

In six weeks.

I must be am clearly certifiable.

Time to sit down and think this through.

First on the list is to make the transitional stays, ’cause ain’t nothin’ happenin’ without ’em. I believe a call on my local reed seller is in order. I wonder if he has made the acquaintance of a neighboring shopkeeper known as JoAnn…


Name that Jacket-Looking-Thingy

While I’m sitting here waiting for my ride to appear at the appointed hour so I can head off for the cataract surgery, I thought I’d appeal for some assistance.

I’m on a steep learning curve when it comes to Georgian fashion, clothing, and all the “how did they do it” issues. And here we are at the first “what”, followed closely by “how.”

Spencer, 1790's, Christie's

Spencer, 1790’s, Christie’s

I know I am going to make this ensemble. I love it and I want it and that’s that. Here are the fabrics: there is a small chance I might be able to get the red in a reasonably priced polished cotton, which would be great.

2014-04-14 18.03.38

And here are the questions:

Is that jacket really a spencer? To my untrained eye, it looks too early for a true spencer. And if it’s not a spencer, what is it? Some kind of caraco? But it doesn’t really look like one of those, either. I believe this is an introduction to the joys of transitional-styles – not really “A”, but also not really “B.” So, of course it would appeal to me. Sheesh.

Another ramble through Pinterest this morning with an eye specifically out for late-1790’s caracos found these:

So am I dealing with a caraco after all? It looks easy enough to make – in principle, that is. I just might be about to draft my first pattern from scratch. Where’s my Janet Arnold…? I can see the shapes for the front and how they go together. I assume the sleeves are in two pieces (weren’t they all?). The back, however,is another story. Does anyone know where I can find a photo of the back of this garment? In the meantime, I’ll keep looking.

Stepping into a completely new era is both exciting and fraught with mistakes born of ignorance. If anyone has any suggestions, comments, experience and/or tales of woe, I’m all ears.